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Chat: Jonah Keri

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday April 13, 2004 7:30 PM ET chat session with Jonah Keri.

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Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Jonah Keri: Hello from Los Angeles, where the sunshine and traffic are real, most other things fake. That sound you may hear during this Chat is me chomping at the bit to start my mini-World Tour. On Thursday night I'll be in Arlington, Texas, signing copies of Baseball Prospectus 2004. The next night I'll be in Houston, doing the same--with the talented Dayn Perry--in Houston. Catch all the details here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/booktour.shtml Then on Saturday April 24 I'll be hosting a special Smoked Meat/Pizza Feed in Montreal as part of Home Opener weekend for les Expos. Check back at baseballprospectus.com for an update on that event. OK, let's get started...

Jackie Chiles (New York): What's your take on Garret Anderson's extension? How useful will he be in 2008?

Jonah Keri: Four years, $48 million. Couple of thoughts here.

First off, Garret Anderson doesn't get enough credit in sabermetric circles. He's improved into a better player than he was in the late 90s, when BP and others derided him regularly for his high-counting stats, mediocre rate stats offense. He's now a solid producer, even at a corner outfield spot. Moreover, Anderson doesn't get enough credit for his durability. Where a player like Cliff Floyd has been thought of as a borderline star among some statheads in the last few years, Anderson doesn't get that kind of credit. Meanwhile Floyd's a lock to miss a whole whack of games every year (already on the DL in '04) while Anderson plays every day. Anderson's out-VORPed Floyd for two straight seasons, and he's a guy I'd rather have on my team, albeit by a slim margin.

That said...four years, $48M? No thanks. The free agent market has gone through a major correction, such that it shouldn't cost this kind of dough to sign a very good but not great corner outfielder who at age 32 is a long shot to get better from this point on, and a decent bet to get significantly worse by the end of the deal. Add to that the Angels' glut of outfielders and their continued refusal to move Darin Erstad off first base and into center field where he belongs, and you have to give the deal a thumbs down.

Franklin D. Romanoski (Selig is evil): Why is everyone making such a big deal out of #660?

Jonah Keri: I heard something about this...some guy names Larry Bonds, and something to do with Carl Mays, right? Yeah, I don't see the great interest in the number 660. Sheehan and I regularly combine to shoot that score at Brookside #2.

southcoast (Texas): Any thoughts on whether Nick Johnson's lumbar strain is serious or not and whether it will persist throughout the season? Any prediction on what kind of season he will have with the Expos? Thanks,

Jonah Keri: Will Carroll's remained optimistic about the lumbar strain itself, so I see no reason to panic. The greater issue, one that Will has touched on in UTK more than once, is that Johnson has reached the stage where we can't simply write off his injuries as fluke events, but rather have to ask how much his health may weigh down what's looked like a potential All-Star career. For the here and now, it's rare to see a player come off the DL after an injury like this and immediately light up the league. Expos fans shouldn't expect NickJ's full offensive talents to emerge until at least May 1.

Tim Whatley (New York City): Who'll be the the ace of the White Sox by the end of the year?

Jonah Keri: Esteban Loaiza, again. He won't put up another Strat card for the ages this year, but he'll still be one of the AL's 15 or 20 best starters, and he'll give the Sox sorely needed innings, given how thin their bullpen is after Damaso Marte.

Will, aka RCS (Fredericton, NB): Who would win in a nine inning game versus each other(with equal, league average pitchers), a line-up of Rey Ordonezes or a line-up of Steve Balbonis?

Jonah Keri: Good question, Will. It's close. Balboni's power obviously puts St. Rey to shame, but these are players with similar career OBPs, albeit Rey's in a higher offensive era. I see the defensive gap between the two as being so enormous, especially in spots like SS and CF, that I think Rey could hang with Bye-Bye. Call it a draw.

Ken (Los Angeles): Using the player forecaster as a guide, why is BP so high on Brad Wilkerson?

Jonah Keri: A few reasons, Ken. First and foremost, he's a player who's shown great plate patience and slowly improving power both in the minors and major leagues. He's also entering an age range at which we'd expect him to post the best numbers of his career.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that PECOTA's assuming a huge park effect from Montreal/Puerto Rico, which I think is a little overblown (the three low-scoring games vs. the Mets over the weekend notwithstanding). While new parks have come into the league that could render Montreal more hitter-friendly relative to the rest of the league, it's not as extreme as all that, and the Montreal factor should even out over time. They moved the fences back in Puerto Rico, which could change the complexion of that park, and we have to remember we're only dealing with a place that hosts 1/4 of the Expos' home games. Add to that, reliable park factors typically take three years to calculate, and we've only got one year's worth of data. AND by one year I mean 22 games...so a truly reliable park factor in this case may take even longer than that.

All that said, Brad Wilkerson will come out of this early-season slump and help the Expos offense a great deal this year, and he's young enough and cheap enough to be a big-time asset for them through at least '06.

Art Vandelay (Billy Idol): With Prior hurt, who is the Cubs best pitcher?

Jonah Keri: Kerry Wood.

I like Zambrano, but I worry about his workload. Of course his build could also mean that he can withstand what we'd normally view as worrisome loads for a pitcher his age. I wonder if in a few years we'll be talking about Zambrano the way we do Bartolo Colon, and Livan Hernandez v2003.

Alton Benes (Jersey): Do the Braves have the worst bench in the Majors?

Jonah Keri: Lots of good candidates for this award. The Marlins are carrying Lenny Harris, the single worst player in all of baseball by a significant margin, so they have a nice head start. They also feature the likes of Damion Easley and Mike Mordecai, and can no longer call Ramon Castro, an instant power threat and superb #2 guy, a backup (the last of those being a good thing, as Castro's getting the starting job he's deserved since...what, the Clinton Administration?).

Meanwhile the Expos passed on veteran lefty-masher Wil Cordero, solid scrap heap lefty-masher Joe Vitiello and young lefty-masher Val Pascucci in favor of carrying the punchless Luis Lopez on their bench, perfectly complementing hopeless Ron Calloway, awful Einar Diaz and the neighbor's kid, Jamey Carroll.

The Phillies actually carry a rather solid bench, and if the NL East gets close between several teams as the year goes on, the Phils could get the edge here.

Jorens (Brooklyn): Is IPAR a good buy at 26.35? Did DePodesta fleece Dombrowski on the Cody Ross-Steve Colyer deal?

Jonah Keri: Jorens is trying to get me to recommend a stock, which he knows I can't do. (Wait for it to round the right side of its base, Josh, then look for a downward-sloping handle in light volume as a prelude to a possible breakout).

...oh sorry, baseball, right. DePo did great on the Ross deal. Cody was one of the few good ones the Tigers had, and getting him for a dime a dozen arm like Steve Colyer is mystifying. You can't even argue that the Tigers were one reliever away from winning it, which *may* have made the deal slightly more palatable for Detroit. This is why it never hurts to ask...sometimes you get the answer you hoped for but never expected to get.

Rafael D. (Hollywood, FL): Why is PECOTA so down on Bubba Crosby in his 27-year-old season, even if playing time is limited?

Jonah Keri: Uh, because he's not very good?

Other than a 277-AB stint in Las Vegas, the park that made even Joey-Jo-Jo Thurston look good, when was the last time Bubba did anything remotely impressive? If I were a Red Sox, O's or Jays fan, I'd be sending a barrage of fake stories of Crosby saving puppies and curing the blind in his youth to the desks of the NY Times, Sun, Post, Daily News and Newsday. He's already become something of a fan and media darling in New York, and the longer the Yanks delude themselves into thinking he's good, the better their rivals' chances get.

Julian (Pembroke Pines, FL): Where do you see Justin Duchscherer ending up? I'm really high on this guy, and I don't understand why Oakland is looking to trade him. Do they plan to trade Graham Koonce as well?

Jonah Keri: Sometimes there are other factors in play with players that people outside an organization aren't privy to which may impact this kind of decision, Julian. You're right in liking his recent performance record, as Duch has shown amazing control for several years now, and guys who prevent walks and keep the ball in the park stand a good chance of succeeding in the majors. Whilke Dayn Perry's research on the subject may have simply been a good starting point to the discussion, it's interesting to note that K rates may not be the biggest and best factor to look at in evaluating a young pitcher and his future. Where will he end up? The Cardinals sure could use a guy like him in the rotation.

Koonce will probably stay put, and frankly could probably outhit Scott Hatteberg and his lamentable contract tomorrow if given the shot.

Brian (Los Angeles): Hi Jonah -- As the sole member of the BP staff to predict the Cardinals as high as 2nd in the Central, could you explain, briefly, the thinking behind your decision? Thanks.

Jonah Keri: Speaking of the Cardinals...

I think that top four of Rolen, Renteria, Edmonds, and Pujols gives any team a huge head start toward a playoff run. Of course they didn't make it last year, but that was partly the result of the Cubs coming on strong. I see the Cards getting a contribution from Danny Haren, and Walt Jocketty working a strong trade or three at the deadline as the keys to breaking the deadlock for second in a tight division.

The Cards pick is also a vote of no confidence for the Cubs. I made the call before rumors started flying that Prior's UCL was abducted by aliens, but of course his injury is significant here. What really worried me going into the season was the offense, though. Alou is a tin man, Sosa is going to have a significant decline this year, Patterson's an injury question mark, and that lineup sorely lacks balance.

Actually if the Reds can somehow keep their pitching goodness going, they may get closer to the Cubs for third than most people would have imagined.

David Lookner (Yankee Stadium): Is Joe Blanton going to be seeing any time in the majors this year?

Jonah Keri: I think he will, because I think Mark Redman's usage last year is going to catch up to him. You could see it in Redman in the second half last season, where he really wore down after both Torborg and McKeon put him through some very high pitch-count starts, and maybe more significantly, had him pitch through multiple long, high-stress innings throughout the season. Plus it's not hard to see Beane flipping one of his starters for offensive help at the deadline, knowing he can play the Blanton card and probably not see a huge drop-off from anyone other than Hudson.

Duncan Meyer (Bronx): Who's better: Edgar Renteria or Miguel Tejada?

Jonah Keri: Renteria, though Tejada's another player who's been overrated in mainstream circles and has thus created a bit of a backlash in some stathead circles. It's worth remembering that not only does he bring terrific pop for a shortstop--even in the age of ARod--he's also a very, very good fielder. It's hard to go too wrong with either guy.

I'm looking forward to seeing where Renteria and Orlando Cabrera (another talented shortstop who's improved dramatically during the course of his career) end up in free agency this winter.

Lloyd Braun (USA): What do you think of Adam Dunn's chances of leading the NL in homers this year?

Jonah Keri: Pretty good shot. Bonds and Pujols have to rate as two of the bigger favorites, but with health and 160 games, I think 45 is very doable.

Joe Divola (N.Y.): If the Brewers would have drafted Barry Zito, and the A's Ben Sheets, then who would be a better pitcher today?

Jonah Keri: Very possibly Sheets...the work Zito did with Rick Peterson and Oakland's minor- and major-league coaches and instructors has helped a great deal during his career, as has the work he's put in with his dad.

With Zito's peripherals softening over the last couple years though, and Sheets improving almost game by game, I could see Sheets matching Zito as soon as well...right now.

Todd Gack (Marlins Fan): Who'll have a better season: Brad Penny or Carl Pavano?

Jonah Keri: I could make a case for either guy. PECOTA's relatively pessimistic on both of them, owing to their checkered injury histories (especially Pavano's). Pavano really seemed to turn a corner last year, and McKeon didn't put him in many excessively taxing situations last year, despite his leading the staff in innings pitched at 201.

I picked the Marlins to finish last in the NL East in the recent Author Predictions piece, but that was owing to what I believe will be a vastly improved Mets squad with the arrival of Cameron and Matsui (watch those pitcher ERAs fall) and an Expos team that did a great job of making moves on the fly to replace Vlad and Vazquez. Truth be told I could see about 7-8 different standings orders in that division, and the Marlins, thanks not only to Willis and Beckett but also guys like Penny and Pavano, could certainly win the thing.

J. Peterman (New York): Who'll be the best player in the long run: Jay Gibbons, Larry Bigbie, or Luis Matos?

Jonah Keri: Gibbons, but none of those three look like anything special. I'm a bit bewildered by the sudden buzz over Bigbie. His track record doesn't make me think he'll be anything above a fringe major starter. Gibbons has some nice pop but doesn't look like he's on his way to Thome-izing anyone. Matos still has major issues with plate discipline, and when he stops hitting over .300 (i.e. this year), he won't look nearly as good, lacking those walks.

Adam (San Francisco): Are you suggesting that the A's might trade Mulder or Zito this year? There's no chance of that happening, not with both of them locked up at reasonable salaries through 2006.

Jonah Keri: Never say never with Billy Beane. If the A's could trade Zito or Mulder for...let's say Mark Teixeira or Austin Kearns...wouldn't you stop to think about it? I'm not suggesting by any means that such offers are on the table. But the same factor that make the A's starters attractive to the A's apply to the other 29 teams. Bottom line that team will do what it takes to position itself for a shot at the big one, and I imagine there are few players on that roster that would be automatically off limits.

Peter Van Nostrand (America): How long can Matt Herges hold out as Giants closer?

Jonah Keri: What separates Matt Herges from Tim Worrell? There are dozens of these guys out there, veterans with decent stuff and good but not great peripherals, who'll save 75%-85% of games and generally not stink out the joint. Herges will get plenty of save opps that require 3 outs or less, up 2, 3 runs. There really isn't as much skill required to fill the role as some might have you believe.

More germane to the Giants' pennant hopes is Herges' ability to pitch well in general, whatever his role, as well as the progress of David Aardsma, who could become the third member of that Ryan Wagner-Chad Cordero college closer group to really make a mark this season. I like all three of 'em.

H.E. Pennypacker (Queens): Will Miguel Cabrera displace Galaraga as the best player in Venezuelan history?

Jonah Keri: Bank on it.

Kevin (St. Albans, VT): Why did the Expos cut Joe Vitiello, and why hasn't anyone else picked him up? All he did was hit about .375 last year coming off the bench, and .440 in spring training this year...

Jonah Keri: Because he is and will forever be viewed as a player too limited to help most clubs by the people who run those clubs. What always gets me is when managers keep players like Donnie Sadler around, citing their "versatility." "Versatility" is just a code word for "I don't want to get to the 14th inning and find that my bench has been used up and have to play some 250-pound guy oput of position, risk him making an embarassing error, and then have to deal with the media inquisition sure to follow."

Meanwhile the Vitiellos of the world--and Vitiello isn't THAT good a hitter, just referring to people like him--get passed over. Then when the time comes to give the lefty-hitting starter a breather or you need a righty bat with power off the bench, you're left with the RH-hitting twin brother of Edwards Guzman as a sorry alternative. I always have great admiration for managers who *don't* pick the speedy little guy who can't hit to save his life over the one- or two-position bopper who can truly help a bench. Those kinds of decisions on the margins can make the difference when the margin for error is just a game or two.

Jesse Tuggle (Atlanta): You become owner of the Montreal Expos. Who do you hire as manager?

Jonah Keri: How old's Davey Johnson these days? If he's still upright, he'd be up there...all he does is win, even if he bugs the hell out of everyone.

Mind you, I'd love to see Derek Zumsteg work his unique magic, armed with say a 2-4 of Labatt's Blue.

Bob Sacamano (New York): True or False: The Tigers have a chance to finish with a better record than the Royals this year.

Jonah Keri: It could happen. The Royals played well above what their runs scored and allowed totals last year might have suggested, and the Tigers did a lot to improve themselves in the off-season. I think the likelihood of Detroit passing Cleveland is much higher, though, because KC has a nice nucleus augmented by some solid off-season moves by Allard Baird, and the Indians aren't bothering with the charade of playing veterans who have no chance to be on the next good Cleveland team. That means, as Steven Goldman nailed in his Teams column today, that they can cycle through their young players and evaluate everyone they want to look at, with the resulting Brandon Phillips-type struggles likely weighing down their record in the near term.

David Putty (New York): What middle infield combo would you rather have: Rivas/Guzman or Cora/Izturis?

Jonah Keri: Can I have Michael Cuddyer/Mendy Lopez instead?

One of the great mysteries of the season will be to see how long Paul DePodesta will run with Cora and Izturis polluting the offense. HACKING MASS teams everywhere are conducting nightly vigils lobbying for the dynamic duo to rack up 1200 ABs.

Lightning round...I'm minutes away from delicious, non-Passover food.

Sean (Reno): Any thoughts on the Braves pitching staff? Those who picked them to finish 2nd in the East . . . with Hampton and Wright . . . well.

Jonah Keri: Second? Bah! I picked them first!

John Thomson is going to have a bigger year than even his supporters realize, and the Braves are going to find a way to augment the back of the staff as the year goes on. Just because someone has a given role on Opening Day doesn't mean he'll be there by Labor Day, or even Memorial Day. Too often people forget that when they into the preseason crystal ball.

Billy (Oaktown): Mulder or Hudson?

Jonah Keri: Hudson. He's the clear ace of that staff. And even though the A's insist he's fine, I worry about Mulder staying healthy in the long run.

R.J. (Washington, DC): When do we get a team in DC? PS. I had my first real cookie in 8 days tonight. Passover stinks.

Jonah Keri: MLB's going to keep stringing you along, R.J. There was another question in the queue about whether DC would be able to build that 100% publicly financed park that's being tossed around, and if not, if Bud would agree to a team there...I think it's more likely that the Expos get contracted than they move to DC. Seriously.

And I say this as someone who's lived in both cities, and considers both places great baseball towns, albeit both in need of some help.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): A lot of people have had harsh words for Omar Manaya's work in Montreal in spite of the ridiculous position his bosses have put him in. How do you rate his performance? What's one thing he needs to do soon?

Jonah Keri: He's gotten a lot better, Cris. The Vazquez deal was a marked improvement over the Colon deal of the previous off-season. Sure, it's possible that NickJ never plays more than 100 games in a season for the Spos, but he brings some legitimate upside to the table. Even if the entire haul from the Colon deal stayed healthy, they didn't have that same ability to really propel a team the way a .300/.410/.520 Johnson can.

Yev Kasem (NY): Chad Moeller or Gary Bennett?

Jonah Keri: Biff Pocoroba.

jaccokee (North Hollywood): What's the story with Wily Mo Peņa? Can he be the next Encarnacion/Guillen for the Reds? PECOTA has great numbers forecasted for him - .271/.340/.509, VORP: 26.7, Improve: 77% and Breakout: 61%. Yet the blurb in BP2K4 is not very hopeful, saying he's more like 2 years away from doing anything, and for him to hit these projections this year would "be a shock".

Jonah Keri: I'd like to see Wily Mo actually get regular playing time, so we could find out and settle this PECOTA love affair once and for all. Unfortunately, even if Griffey goes down again to a serious injury (and joking aside, here's hoping he doesn't...ahem...May 4), I think the Reds would more do something like play Ryan Freel every day in CF and Juan Castro at 3B, thus creating a lineup that Rey Sanchez would be proud to call home.

Derek Zumsteg (Bellevue, WA): Can you take some time from your world tour to hang out here and help me hang drywall? Seriously.

Jonah Keri: Only if you'll return the favor when I need my car salvaged from the 200,000-mile brink of death.

Chillbot (Tacoma, WA): What other websites do you read regularly that we should check out after we've read our daily fix of BP?

Jonah Keri: www.investors.com, which in fact just had a major redesign today. You'll be able to retire by age 45.

Jonah Keri: OK, that's all the time I have for today. Thanks for the quantity and quality of great questions. I wasn't able to get to a bunch of 'em, but feel free to e-mail me any time at jkeri@baseballprospectus.com and I'll work on a thoughtful reply. Hope to shake your hands in Dallas and Houston this Thursday and Friday and in Montreal April 24. See you then!


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